Can we all agree that the CBC online-video-player project is a non-starter?

The time to launch it is well past. There was a brief three-month window of plausibility – between the launch of the BBC iPlayer and that of NBC’s Web player, Hulu. At this point it’s too late.

Ordinarily you’d just assume, because of the colonialism still at work at the Corpse, that the BBC video player is the standard of reference. And in this case you’d be right. I don’t think I’ve been back to Brighton (the acceptable face of England) since the iPlayer launched; I haven’t used it. But the Beeb put immense effort into it – essentially setting up an entire department of developers, testers, and rights-wranglers. When V1.0 didn’t really work, they accepted their mistakes and nearly rewrote it from scratch for V2.0.

They’ve got an entire apparatus in place to encode and reëncode video into different formats. (It turned out to be unwise to bet the farm on Flash video. Can your iPhone play Flash video?) Instead of the CBC tactic of fighting a human-rights complaint they knew they would lose, BBC took accessibility into account from the word go. There’s captioning (sometimes), there’s description (sometimes), and the player more or less works in screen readers (sometimes).

Hulu is another story. I haven’t used it either, but I did use the earlier NBC online video player that was Hulu’s progenitor. A very strange way to watch television. Alien, even. There’s advertising. The captioning, when it’s even there, is a separate scrolling window that they somehow expect us to take seriously, use, and understand. Nonetheless, tons of little mentions come through my RSS all the time about watching programs on Hulu. (It’s even an OK name. “iPlayer” certainly isn’t.)

In the interregnum between the launches of those two players, there was something resembling a public awareness (an online-public awareness) that TV could be legitimately watched online. Just as the iTunes (Music) Store competes with illegal downloading, a concept so radically simple nobody had really tried it, these sanctioned video players compete with Bittorrent. Given a relatively convenient option, most people will be honest. Dishonest people were never going to use your legit player in the first place. It’s two separate audiences.

In theory you can watch CTV programs online, but, despite my commitment to journalism, I am not going to go check.

Why bother?

Now, a basic question is: Why bother? The BBC has a serious public-broadcasting remit backed up by the windfall of a mandatory television licence. For Hulu, NBC (and Fox and the other “partners”) pulled a Comedy Central and figured that if illegal YouTube clips were attracting x many hits, legal TV clips could do the same. You can sell ads to capture those hits.

My assumption is that CBC feels it naturally falls onto its own mantle to provide an online video player. (Sort of like CBC should obviously be the sole perpetual broadcaster of the Olympics and NHL hockey on Saturday nights.) It’s a given.

But I have it on good authority that people inside Fort Dork are just not getting their acts together technically on the whole thing. They don’t have the “manpower” to program a video player; there really isn’t any in-house expertise. As with the BBC, it requires its own department. Who can justify the office space? They could be renting that out!

The Corpse doesn’t really have a clue what features the player should have (hint: copy the iPlayer). The CBC’s foolish self-removal from production of Canadian television has severely limited the number of programs to which they could even conceivably negotiate rights. Then there is the problem of carrying out foolproof reverse-IP lookup so that viewers outside Canada could be geofenced.

But, most of all, the problem is trying to explain the 21st century to managers who are still mentally working out of a Jarvis St. office with overflowing ashtrays. Is it true that one can sit in a meeting and suggest a feature “like they have on Flickr” and receive the response “What’s Flickr?”

How would you go about selling an online video player to Peter Gzowski?

Like any doomed project with heavy sunk costs, the Corpse will keep plugging away at a video player until, let’s say, 2010, when it will release a product that’s Windows-only and feature-complete up to 2007.

Could I suggest a couple of alternatives?

Not that they’ll go anywhere?

  1. TiVo remote and box Do a deal with TiVo, and, I suppose, with those hideous off-brand “PVRs” the Windoids are too stupid to realize are hideous. (Can’t they even tell that the interface sucks, and that a PVR is its interface?) I want huge prominence of CBC programming on my TiVo – not just a logo next to the show name, but an entire menu item. I want CBC podcasts on my TiVo, including all that unwanted video shit from Q.

    CBC already blew it with the Onion News Network, a category it could have owned; quit making the same mistake twice.

  2. In fact, start handing these things out to people. Did you know that APTN is shutting down its transmitters in some parts of the Far North? Viewers there will instead be handed an ExpressVu box.

    I don’t have the details worked out, and this is only a half-assed idea, but half- is more assed than most CBC ideas. Try something like this: For a hundred bucks you get a legit TiVo preloaded with CBC shows and with automatic subscriptions to all CBC networks, including the diginets. (This will mean making things work with digital cable boxes, as we are still a CableCardless society.)

    Standard TiVo subscription fees would apply, split with the Corpse and cablecos. We’d have to get this thing working in French (they have Spanish already); as it stands, blind people would be SOL.

    In the way that ExpressVu APTN subscribers can optionally add other channels and will probably do so, you could optionally add other services, or just graft the new CBC channels onto your existing lineup. Then we start auto-downloading shit into your box. But it’s public-broadcasting shit, not E! or Keys to the VIP or Flashpoint.

If the public broadcaster can invest in a private enterprise like Sirius, why can’t it invest in TiVo? They could use the money.

The thing about TiVos is they respect the nature of television. It is, as Dan Rayburn put it, a lean-back medium (you watch it from a distance on a big screen while lying on the couch). The computer is a lean-forward medium. Not too many people want to watch full TV shows leaning forward. Some people, sure. Those people will get the shitty has-been corpsePlayer or will just keep downloading via Bittorrent.

The rest of us can still be networked and online. We just won’t be using a general-purpose computer. We’ll be using a single-purpose computer masquerading as a tapeless VCR.

Another half-assed idea that I’ll just put out there

Release full-featured DVD sets of CBC shows more or less at the same time they appear on the air. Like, two weeks after or something. Saturate the marketplace.


  1. Kev
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 12:31 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I try listening to the radio feed sometimes, it runs for 10 mins or so, then loops back to the beginning. wtf?

    If you’re on a Mac, this is an issue with older versions of the flip4mac player. Basically it didn’t detect streaming vs/ progressive media very well, and would just download until it got bored (or ran out of cache) and then replay whatever it had downloaded. If you upgrade it should solve the problem, if you don’t want to then follow the instructions on to fix it.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 10:55 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Why buy a working player when we can employ 300 people to invent vaporware that will be buggier than an August swamp. Geez, doesn’t anybody know how things work around here?

  3. Anonymous
    Posted August 14, 2008 at 1:06 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    windows (l)user? wha?

    Those are mention (vs. use) quotes. Not scare quotes. Surely a linguist should see that.

    (Does a dual boot Mac make me a windows user? I only use XP to play Grand Theft Auto…)

  4. Anonymous
    Posted August 14, 2008 at 9:02 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The CBc does have a player. Maven.

  5. Fake Ouimet
    Posted August 14, 2008 at 8:40 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    That’s why I use it! I’m glad you noticed. However, I draw the line at writing numbers as words and the following orthography: suède.

    But! Thanks for using neutral quotation marks to complain about an archaism. Windows user?

  6. Anonymous
    Posted August 14, 2008 at 12:33 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Holy hell, I only just noticed the diaeresis in the second paragraph. (“reëncode”).

    Jeez Louise, man. This is just some archaic 17th century fluff that only the New Yorker hangs on to.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 2:19 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Or… the Ceeb could just try to reassemble the team that created zed (which incidently had a viable flash player that handled many media types, an honest-to-god “web 2.0” community, a bittorrent tracker for its programing 3 years before Next PM, webby award nominations, and generally kicked ass.)

  8. Anonymous
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 1:36 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Even some minor online improvements would be a blessing.

    I try listening to the radio feed sometimes, it runs for 10 mins or so, then loops back to the beginning. wtf?

    And how about posting “full screen” links for those of us not using M$ Media Player? Is that so hard?

    And…. this is my greatest complaint about CBC online services…. if you’re going to have an online presence, have one or don’t. Don’t do it right one day , then do it half-assed the next. (eg, don’t tell me the feed for “The National” will be up “approx 10:pm” and then wait until 11:30 to do it. Radio and TV schedules aren’t approximate, I don’t see why the web has to be.)

  9. Dwight Williams
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 1:05 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    APTN is shutting down transmitters

    That said, I think you’ve got most of the argument worth making down pat.

    And as for the idea of a broadcasting network running a real estate arm…I still can’t quite wrap my own brain around that. It would be akin to learning to pronounce one of Lovecraft’s Elder Ones’ names correctly – with the consequences to match – to even try.

    Time to get on with this project.

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